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No more ‘green hush’: Why NZ business can’t stay silent on climate change

A major new report gives New Zealand a road map for achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions by the end of this century. Now it’s time for business to stand up and be counted, says the Sustainable Business Council’s Abbie Reynolds.

You’ve probably never heard of UK-based independent economics consultancy Vivid Economics, but the report they’re launching today could have far-reaching consequences for New Zealand’s future.

The report, Net Zero in New Zealand: Scenarios to achieve domestic emissions neutrality in the second half of the century, was commissioned by GLOBE-NZ, a cross-party group of New Zealand MPs dedicated to combatting climate change. It marks the beginning of a national conversation about what we need to do to meet the carbon reduction targets we set in Paris in 2015, and ratified late last year.

And the big news: the report makes clear we’ll need to do a lot more than just beefing up our Emissions Trading Scheme.

Cows grazing on top of Mt. Eden, Auckland. Photo: Getty Images

We need to remind ourselves why we’re talking about carbon and the transition to a low carbon economy. We’re only about six years away from global warming reaching 1.5 degrees Celsius. That might not mean a lot to you in isolation, but when you also learn that’s the temperature at which we lose 90-95% of all coral globally, the impact is clear.

In Paris, leaders agreed to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius with an ambition to keep it below 1.5 degrees. New Zealand’s contribution to that commitment is to reduce our emissions by 30% against a 2005 baseline by 2030.

And for New Zealand, with 50% of emissions from agriculture, that’s an ambitious target. It’s going to take more than just a strengthened Emissions Trading Scheme for us to deliver it.

That’s why the Vivid Economics report is so important. It starts to explore scenarios of what we’d need to do to make the transition to net zero emissions in the second half of this century.

It covers such factors as how many electric vehicles we’ll need and in what time frame. It looks at what will need to happen with electricity generation. And it considers our land uses, and how these will need to change.

These scenarios will help us to plan the transition, and understand some of the critical trade-offs. They’ll help us understand where investment is needed and where we’re likely to feel the most significant impacts. And crucially, they start to identify where government policy is going to be critical.

What’s also important about the Vivid Economics work is that it was commissioned by GLOBE-NZ, a group of MPs from all the parties. This early commitment to working together is a very hopeful sign. The scale of the issue is significant but the timeframes are longer than the usual political cycle. It’s critical that we have a long-term approach.

Cows at the Synlait dairy farm in Canterbury stand in the darkness of night on May 25, 2015. Photo: Martin Hunter/Getty Images

But what does all of this mean for business? Plenty of businesses are already actively engaged in thinking about climate change. Some are already part of the Emissions Trading Scheme, and the cost of carbon is something they are already managing inside their businesses. Some have made voluntary commitments to reduce emissions.

Others are considering the impact of climate change and the resulting risks. We’ve already got investors considering this globally, and this is expected to increase.

The difference with this report is that it starts to identify where business opportunities might lie – like forestry, a critical element of a net zero emissions future. And what we really need in this country is for businesses to start looking for the opportunities. It’s been said that climate change will be a bigger driver of innovation than World War II. And unless we start looking at the opportunities as well as the risks, we will miss out.

What will be vital going forward is that the public gets to hear what business is doing to address climate change. We suffer less from green wash in New Zealand than ‘green hush’. New Zealanders want to hear CEOS affirm that society and the environment matters to business, and that business is taking action on the things that matter to them. The opportunity is ripe for CEOs to stand up and be counted on this issue.

We have great examples in New Zealand. Christopher Luxon at Air New Zealand and Mike Bennetts at Z Energy both regularly speak about this issue and how important it is to their business. Fraser Whineray at Mercury very publicly encourages the uptake of electric vehicles. Their actions help give the public confidence that climate issues are being taken seriously – while also building the strength of their brands.

Business needs policy stability and certainty to innovate for the long-term and respond to the challenge of climate change. My hope is that the Vivid report starts a conversation that brings government, business and civil society together to figure out a pathway to a low emission future that makes us all better off.

Abbie Reynolds is the executive director of the Sustainable Business Council.


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